- The Washington Times - Friday, June 3, 2016

The World Health Organization is evaluating the risks of holding this August’s Olympic Games in Brazil as regularly scheduled, amid widespread fears of spreading the Zika virus beyond the hot zone in South America.

Director-General Margaret Chan said experts will meet shortly to discuss the situation and report their findings.

“Given the current level of international concern, I have decided to ask members of the Zika Emergency Committee to examine the risks of holding the Olympic Summer Games as currently scheduled,” she said in a letter to Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire Democrat.

Mrs. Shaheen released the letter early Friday.

“The Olympic Games draw athletes and spectators from every corner of the globe and it’s important that we understand the global health implications,” the senator said.

Zika is a mosquito-borne illness that can cause birth defects in infants born to infected mothers. It’s also been linked to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, which can cause paralysis.

The virus is mainly spreading in Brazil and other Latin American countries. More than 150 health experts recently called on Olympic officials to postpone or move games, because athletes and other travelers to Rio de Janeiro could get infected and bring the virus home with them.

The WHO rejected such calls only days ago, arguing attempts to cancel or move the games would not significantly alter the international spread of Zika.

Dr. Chan’s letter suggested that WHO’s review is ongoing. She has dispatched senior epidemiologists to Brazil four times, most recently in early May, to assess the situation.

The Centers for Disease Control has recorded more than 600 travel-related cases of Zika in the 50 states and D.C., a handful of them through sexual transmission, though experts say the virus could puncture the mainland further once mosquito season ramps up.

Republican negotiators are trying to reconcile House and Senate measures that offer roughly a third to one half of the $1.9 billion that President Obama requested in February to combat Zika at home and abroad.

Democrats and some Florida Republican say Zika is such an emergency that Congress should approve Mr. Obama’s full request without paying for it with cuts elsewhere in the massive federal budget.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said he will try to force GOP lawmakers to take another thorny vote against the $1.9 billion package when Congress returns from recess next week.

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